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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #35, 00-04-21

U.S. State Department: Daily Press Briefings Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Department of State Foreign Affairs Network (DOSFAN) at <>


U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing


Friday, April 21, 2000

Briefer: James P. Rubin

1,7-8      Russian Duma Ratifies the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)

9 New Russian Military Doctrine/US View


1-2 New Momentum in Israeli-Palestinian Talks

2,3,4-5 Next Round of Talks in Region/Dennis Ross and Aaron Miller Role

2 President Clinton and Secretary Albright's Meetings with Chairman Arafat

3 Timeline for Framework Agreement

3-4 Status Chairman Arafat's Health

4 Chairman Arafat's Schedule/Other Meetings in Washington

5-6,7 Status of Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese Tracks


6 UN Troops Following Israeli Withdrawal from Lebanon

6-7 US Position on Foreign Forces in Lebanon

CUBA 9 Status of Elian Gonzales Case/Greg Craig Contact with Department

10 Update on Cuban Explanation of Altercation at Interests Section

SUDAN 10-11 US Presence in Khatoum/Consular Officer Travel to Khartoum

SERBIA (Kosovo)

12 US Position on Independence for Kosovo


DPB #35

FRIDAY, APRIL 21, 2000, 12:15 P.M.


MR. RUBIN: It just gets earlier and earlier and earlier.

QUESTION: There are more of you than there are of us.

MR. RUBIN: Earlier and earlier and earlier. Well, on Fridays, you know the press corps often doesn't work quite as hard as it does earlier in the week but, being that it's Good Friday, we understand that -- those of us who had our own holidays earlier in the week.

No questions -- no statements. (Laughter.) No briefing, no schedule, nothing to offer except to respond to your questions.

QUESTION: The Russians observed Good Friday by -- or at least the Russian parliament did -- by approving the CTBT. And some of the lawmakers are saying this gives Russia the moral edge over the US. What comment do you have?

MR. RUBIN: Well, we and Russia have worked very closely together for many years now on the objective of nuclear arms control, and it was the United States that led the way in signing the Comprehensive Test Ban and in pushing for its negotiation and, ultimately, its agreement. So I think we feel quite confident that it was our leadership that helped the world move towards a Comprehensive Test Ban.

Obviously, we were very disappointed when our Senate did not ratify, or did not give its advice and consent to ratification, of the Treaty last year. But from our standpoint, Secretary Albright, working with the White House, has named General Shalikashvili to work on this problem. We don't expect it to be resolved this year, but it's something that we think is so important that we need to begin to have some quiet consultation with senators who have legitimate questions and concerns that we think can be addressed, so that we can soon enough ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban.

We ratified -- we gave advice and consent to the START II Treaty some years ago, and it's only recently that the Russians have finally, after many long years, given their advice and consent to START II. So it's hard to see how the Russians are ahead of the game, given that we led the way in getting the treaty negotiated and signed, and that we led the way in ratification of START II many, many years ago.

QUESTION: I've got a question about the Middle East talks last night.

MR. RUBIN: Sure.

QUESTION: Could you give an explanation of how you see the schedule in the months ahead, between now and September 13th? Obviously, there are some more talks later this month, but it seems it's going at a somewhat magisterial pace, considering that there's a deadline coming up in just about three weeks.

MR. RUBIN: Well, look, it's not easy to push forward on an issue that has resisted resolution for a long, long time. We're talking about profound issues -- Jerusalem, water, refugees, borders -- questions that have defied solution for many, many years. So it's no surprise that this is hard. This is a tough piece of business.

But we think there is new momentum and a new resolve on the part of the leaders -- Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Barak -- to work these problems. We have a new development at the next round of talks which will begin, I think on the 1st day of May, give or take a day or two, in the region, in that Ambassador Ross and his deputy, Aaron Miller, will be at the table much more continuously than they've been in the past. So there will be a new American involvement in the day-to-day operations of the negotiations.

But we know that it's a tall, tall order to overcome the nature of some of these problems, but we think as a result of the President and the Secretary's meetings with Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat that there is a new resolve on the part of the leaders to get the job done.

But it's an extraordinarily difficult enterprise, and we have tried to impress upon the leaders the need to come up with realistic solutions, and we hope that will begin to happen when, as you know, at the end of the last round they each had drafts of what they called a skeleton agreement that would have the necessary elements so that we can move towards a framework agreement and then, ultimately, an actual agreement. And so the skeleton agreements have been exchanged, and those will then be discussed in greater detail. And to the extent that we can put flesh on the bones of that skeleton through the process in the region, we think we will be able to help.

QUESTION: But it sounds like it's an incremental change rather than a significant change of American participation. You say they'll be at the table more continuously than they had been. It's pretty hard to measure, you know. It doesn't seem like a change.

MR. RUBIN: Well, let me make the difference between occasional chairing of a meeting and constant presence. That's the difference. So I probably underplayed that, which is my wont, as you know, to underplay these things.

And the involvement was something that the parties thought was appropriate and that we think is a way for us to be helpful. But, again, we think that the will appears to be there. Now we have to find a way to get there.

QUESTION: Could I ask, can you tell us a little more about the specifics of what Mr. Ross and Mr. Miller will be doing at these meetings?

MR. RUBIN: Yes. There are the issues that we've outlined. They're not new to you -- water, refugees, borders, Jerusalem, the third further redeployment. These are issues that the two sides have views on. They have been exchanging views on their concerns, their needs, their objectives, their bottom-line conceptions, during their own negotiations prior to coming to Bolling.

At Bolling, we then tried to get some brainstorming to be done so that we could find places where there were common elements, and that is what the skeleton process is designed to achieve.

And what Ambassador Ross and his deputy, Aaron Miller, will be doing in the region is looking to expand those elements where there is common ground, and doing that by pushing each side to fully explain their position, to focus on the practical and not the theoretical, and see how far they can get. That's what they'll be doing.

QUESTION: Jamie, Dr. Erekat said today at the National Press Club in his briefing that they don't view the May date as a deadline, but more as a flexible timeline. You said yesterday the United States has always seen some flexibility with that. Is everyone trying to tell us to move away from the May date and not expect anything -- the outline -- to be ready by then? Is that what everyone is trying to tell us?

MR. RUBIN: I think you've cracked the code. It's enormously difficult to imagine getting a framework agreement just a few days after the talks resume in the region. It's possible, but it's enormously difficult. It's not impossible.

But, for us, what's been important is not so much the framework agreement and the time frame of that because, you know, a framework agreement could have more or less in it, depending on the desires of the parties. A fully formed framework agreement could have most everything you need for a final agreement. It depends. It's a diplomatic device to give momentum, and so you would choose -- if you had a fully formed framework agreement that had every element practically there except a few details, and you had that done by mid-summer or late summer, you still might be able to meet the September 13th deadline.

So part of the timing of this depends on what kind of framework agreement people decide they want, but it's been our view that we want it as soon as possible. But what we're focused on as the date that counts, obviously, is the September 13th goal of full-fledged agreement on the permanent peace.

QUESTION: Jamie, do you know anything about Arafat's health, maybe, because he didn't show up for a briefing this morning?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I had received no indications from the Secretary that there was anything new or different about his health during her discussions with him yesterday.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) quiet last night with the President and he was -- didn't show up this morning.

MR. RUBIN: I don't have anything new on that, but maybe --

QUESTION: He said he had another meeting this morning, some follow-up talks, do you know anything about those?

MR. RUBIN: I don't think the meeting was with us.

QUESTION: No, they said with the Palestinians.

QUESTION: So are there any follow-up talks with him today, or is he just leaving town?

MR. RUBIN: An internal meeting within the Palestinian Authority, right. You know, I have enough trouble keeping track of all the State Department officials' schedules. But I'm not aware of when he's precisely leaving, but we'll try to --

QUESTION: Seven o'clock tonight.

MR. RUBIN: There you go. Seven o'clock tonight.

QUESTION: They said he would still have his meeting with Wolfensohn today.

MR. RUBIN: Okay.

QUESTION: So after the Barak meeting, you said that this will be the time to draw some conclusions about how the process proceeds. And I just wonder if you could --

MR. RUBIN: Did I say that?


MR. RUBIN: Really? I just hate it when you read those old transcripts.

QUESTION: So could you just give us your take on how the United States will put forward ideas to try to bridge the gaps? You've talked about the parties obviously trying to find it themselves but, with the United States in the chair, how do you see that really --

MR. RUBIN: Well, in response to one of your colleague's questions, I did give a flavor of how I thought that Ambassador Ross and his deputy, Aaron Miller, would operate in these talks; in other words, being there all the time, they'd be in a better position to pick up on common elements and suggest that there were creative compromises that could be made. That is different, however, than a US package, a US set of ideas that is designed to bridge the gaps.

And when and if we come to that point, I will be happy to report that to you. I suspect that may happen after I'm no longer in a position to report such things to you, but that is not envisaged right now, nor am I aware that it's envisaged for the opening of these talks. But, rather, a more continuous presence, a more constant presence, may allow us to help package their ideas in a way that we think could move it forward, but not move to a phase where we're putting down our solution to these issues.

QUESTION: But this phase could come?

MR. RUBIN: I wouldn't rule it out.

QUESTION: Yesterday you contrasted it with Wye River, and that's what you're doing now: saying this is clearly not headed toward that direction yet, although it could be, right -- the US involvement part of it?

MR. RUBIN: Yes. In Wye River we -- prior to Wye River, we had a US percentage, 13 percent to bridge the gap between a single-digit percentage of the Israelis and a -- I believe as high at certain times as 50, 60 or 70 percent position of the Palestinians. And we said an appropriate way to get the process back on track was 13 percent, that we thought that was doable and met the needs of both sides. And, ultimately, that's what happened. But that has not been our posture vis-a-vis Jerusalem, water, refugees, borders, statehood, to date.

QUESTION: Is it because the United States doesn't see it useful at this time to be as involved with specifics as it was leading up to Wye? Is it just not the time for that, or is the US hoping that it doesn't have to become so involved in the bilateral --

MR. RUBIN: Well, ideally, in these cases we can avoid that because it's not -- we try to play as much or as little a role as the parties and we think it necessary to get the job done. And so far we think they've been in a position to have their discussions, be creative, brainstorm together, work on exchanging these skeletal drafts for the agreement -- skeleton drafts for the agreement.

And the time may come where we do make some suggestion or another. I'm not saying we're going to have a whole package across the board of all issues, but on one issue that time may come. It just hasn't come now. And what has come is a time for us to get down to the business of rolling up our sleeves with the negotiators continuously to see where the problems are and see what we can add to potential solutions.

QUESTION: Jamie, Dr. Erekat also said that yesterday they stressed to the Administration their hope that the Syrian and Lebanon talks would pick up again as well. Can you give us a characterization --

MR. RUBIN: I have nothing new to offer on the Syria track. On Lebanon, we've obviously been working very closely with the Secretary General and the United Nations, and we want to support their effort to get implementation of the resolution. We've welcomed the Israeli decision to withdraw unconditionally from Lebanon. We find it hard to imagine why anyone would oppose or stand in the way of such a decision, and we expect all the parties involved to be as constructive as possible as the Israelis seek an orderly withdrawal.

With respect to the negotiating track, I don't have much new to offer you.

QUESTION: But can you explain to me better about what the Palestinians said yesterday in terms of do they view how much they respond in their own talks to what they view as progress being made in the other talks?

MR. RUBIN: I think it's the rhetorical position of the Palestinians that they want the Syrian track to be resumed -- accelerated and resumed.

QUESTION: By going along with UN plans to increase the peacekeeping force in South Lebanon and to move into the areas vacated by the Israelis in July, has the United States effectively abandoned its support for Lebanese army control of these areas?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I think that's probably reading a bit much into it. What we're supporting, as opposed to abandoning, is the implementation of the Security Council resolution, and allowing the Secretary General to make a judgment on what kind of troop numbers he thinks he needs. There is plenty of room between the existing deployment and the authorized level, which I believe is 7,000, and so it may or may not require a new resolution.

We strongly support the sovereignty, territorial integrity, of Lebanon and the Lebanese Government, and it is that government, working with the UN, that needs to work on such problems.

QUESTION: Okay. But in your talks with the Lebanese Government on this, have they in effect refused to consider plans for an early deployment of Lebanese army forces in those areas?

MR. RUBIN: I would prefer not to speculate on what the Lebanese army is going to do inside Lebanon at this time. We want this to be a safe and orderly withdrawal. The details of how to make that happen is what the Secretary General and Mr. Larsen are working on. We are assisting them and working with them, and we don't think it would be wise to publicly speculate on all sorts of possibilities at this time.

QUESTION: What's your position on the continued presence of other foreign forces in Lebanon?

MR. RUBIN: It's been our position for some time that all foreign forces should leave Lebanon, and that the Lebanese Government's territorial integrity and sovereignty is something we believe strongly in.

QUESTION: Have you discussed with the Syrians the possibility that they might also want to consider withdrawing their forces at this time?

MR. RUBIN: I think it's a stated position. The Syrians know our views. I'm not aware of any renewed dialogue with Syria to that effect, nor would I think that we would imagine that would have much of an impact.

QUESTION: Speaking of the Syrians and the dialogue, is there now consideration to going back to the Syrians to ask them to start spelling out what they really mean by some of these hints that have been in the press and from senior officials?

MR. RUBIN: Well, we've been in a dialogue with the Syrians about this question through our Embassy. Obviously, the Secretary General's representative will be doing to Damascus in the coming weeks, and we do think it's very important that all parties -- and we expect all parties -- to behave in such a way that a safe and orderly departure of Israeli forces can be accomplished.

QUESTION: On the other issue between Syria and Israel, what is the status of the dialogue?

MR. RUBIN: I think I was just asked that question by one of your colleagues. I said I have nothing new to offer, but I'd be happy to repeat previous formulations.

QUESTION: Last night, the Administration briefer said that a response is being prepared to Assad's oral message that came in through the Embassy. I'm just wondering if you have any more details on that.

MR. RUBIN: Well, that was some days ago we received that oral message. And we've been in contact with them since that time, and I'm not aware of any new development of significance on the Syria track.

QUESTION: Have you had any clarification of the various hints that they've been putting out from senior officials and through media reports about a desire to resume the negotiations?

MR. RUBIN: I'm not aware we've received any indicators that there is something significantly new that would give new hope to the chance of moving the Syria process forward.

QUESTION: New subject.

MR. RUBIN: Please.

QUESTION: On the CTBT and the Russian Duma's ratification, what's the response of the State Department?

MR. RUBIN: I mentioned that earlier, but let me repeat that the United States obviously welcomes, as the President indicated this morning, the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban. We think the more countries that ratify it, the better. The CTB is something that -- the ban on all nuclear testing is something we think is very important. That's why we were the first country to sign it, why we worked so hard for its negotiation.

And we hope that as General Shalikashvili meets with senators in the coming weeks and months that we can deal with some of their concerns. We don't expect that to be able to be done this year, but we think it's an important issue that we need to continue to work on, so that we can live up to our part of the implicit bargain of the Non-Proliferation Treaty because other countries see the Comprehensive Test Ban as one of the things that we need to pursue. So when senators take a look at it and see what's happening this coming week in New York, they will see the value of our ratification of the CTB in helping to ensure that other countries stay out of the nuclear business and other countries don't violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which so advances our national security.

QUESTION: What does the State Department have to say to those -- how would you counter critics of this Administration who say that you have no arms control treaty to call your own, that there has been no new initiative put forward?

MR. RUBIN: Well, you know, we don't seek treaties for treaties' sake. Some do; we don't. We seek treaties that can advance our national security.

We have signed the Comprehensive Test Ban during this Administration. It has been negotiated by this Administration. It's been ratified by 30 countries now. Its provisions have been abided by, which was not true ten years ago. So the Comprehensive Test Ban is now a reality. Prior to President Clinton and Secretary Albright, it was not a reality. That's a big, big difference.

Meanwhile, the holdup on strategic arms control was in the Russian Duma. That holdup has now been resolved. Those who would have had us change our policy towards Kosovo, towards Iraq, toward NATO enlargement, in order to make it more likely that the Duma would ratify START II, we think were misguided. We think it was extremely important to pursue those policies on NATO enlargement, on Kosovo and Iraq, regardless of whether the Duma threatened to shoot itself in the foot by not ratifying START II.

So these are some of the arguments that they make. From our standpoint, a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing is now in place, and it was not in place before. That's dramatically and remarkably new, from this Administration. That is something that has been sought by the United States since President Eisenhower. That strikes me as a rather historic accomplishment.

With respect to the strategic arms control, I think I answered that. And that's what I'd say to my former friends at the Arms Control Association.

QUESTION: Still on Russia. The Russian Government officially adopted today a new military doctrine which seems to make the use of nuclear weapons more easier. Do you have any comments or a statement about this?

MR. RUBIN: Yes. We've seen various accounts of their doctrine, and so far we've not seen anything that indicates a dramatic new departure to us. I haven't seen the actual wording of this final doctrine, as you say, but I know we've been following this debate in Russia very closely and we don't believe there's any dramatic new departure.



QUESTION: Greg Craig is growing much more impatient about the pace and the child's status, and I'm just wondering, given his relationship with the Secretary and with the Department, has he sought her counsel? Has he talked to her? Has he asked for her assistance in trying to get the Administration to move more quickly? Has he talked to other people within the Department?

MR. RUBIN: I can't rule out that he's talked to colleagues in the Department, former colleagues. Our involvement in this is rather limited at this point, and I think for those of you who have asked me questions about Elian, you've begun to take note of that. This is a Justice Department matter. It's a domestic matter. The State Department's role has been to deal with Cuba on visa issues, on diplomatic notes -- that kind of thing. We did provide the visas necessary for Elian's father and his new wife and child and one other individual to come to the United States -- those six original visas -- and we will continue to review the other cases.

With respect to Greg Craig's contact with the Secretary, I'm not aware of any particular contact. And that's not really the issue, what the Secretary of State's view is right now.

QUESTION: As a fairly recently departed State Department official, isn't he precluded from having any kind of contact for two years?

MR. RUBIN: No. There is a difference between if we approach him; in other words, if he's a lawyer in a case and we have to find out details about visas, we're allowed to be in contact with anyone. When you leave, you can not approach -- as I understand it -- approach the State Department in furtherance of some professional objective such as setting up a new policy, a new meeting, something that would benefit your company, say. But if we contact him, there's no problem because --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on the side of the State Department calling him?

MR. RUBIN: Right I don't think it's happened very often, and I think you're fishing in very thin waters here for something, because there's nothing really there. I mean, this is a Justice Department matter and I think it's pretty clear.

QUESTION: A follow-up with thin waters -- the thin water theory.

MR. RUBIN: Theme.

QUESTION: Theme. Can you give me any more on whether the Cubans have provided a satisfactory explanation for this much-beleaguered incident?

MR. RUBIN: Yes. They have not provided a satisfactory explanation. We've provided them a diplomatic note demanding an explanation and explaining the seriousness of the matter to us. The matter is being investigated by the Metropolitan Police. Their investigation continues. We're assisting them and we are seeking a response from the Cuban Government on what happened, and they have not given us a response yet.

QUESTION: Do they need to give you a response and also cooperate with the police department? Is that what you've asked of them?

MR. RUBIN: Well, it's really one and the same because, being the State Department, they would work through us to respond to inquiries from the police department.

QUESTION: Have you -- or has the Department -- looked into what kind of repercussions there could be diplomatically if the Interests Section does not cooperate?


QUESTION: Would you care to share them?


QUESTION: If, as some newspapers are reporting today, the boy is transferred to the care of his father, might the State Department look more favorably on the issuance of more of the visas that have been requested to try and put more people --

MR. RUBIN: I don't want to speculate on what's going to happen in the coming days, but we will keep that matter under review. And if there are any new factors that we need to take into account in considering the visa requests, we will take those into account.

QUESTION: You said it was thin waters, and you kept your word.

On Sudan, you said yesterday that everything is as before, almost continuous US presence in Khartoum. But the Sudanese seem to think that there is a change and that there's a consular officer -- office --

MR. RUBIN: Let me explain that. I've done some research, and there is some new information I can provide to you on that. The Embassy was never closed. That's a misunderstanding of the situation. We, in 1996, removed full-time American staff from the Embassy and relocated them to Nairobi for security reasons. From Nairobi, they travel regularly to Khartoum to conduct normal embassy business.

In the wake of the bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, we suspended rotating visits by American staff to Khartoum from Nairobi for security reasons. We have now resumed rotating nearly continuous visits by US personnel from Nairobi and Cairo to Khartoum. The first visit to Khartoum occurred in early March, in conjunction with the visit of Harry Johnston, our Special Envoy.

Our Nairobi-based charge-de-affairs is currently in Khartoum on a second visit which began on April the 15th. We have no plans at present to return full-time American staff to Khartoum.

The point here is that the Embassy operations were adjusted based on security considerations. As those security situations improve, we adjust our policies. What's new is that a consular officer is now able to travel from Cairo to Sudan to do interviews with people seeking visas. That is not reopening the consular section of the Embassy; we are not issuing visas from Sudan. But a consular official that had been previously unable to travel to Khartoum is now able to go there and do interviews, but not issue visas -- do interviews. Visas still have to be issued in Cairo.

That is the situation. It's security-based, not policy-based, other comments notwithstanding.

QUESTION: Why was he unable to travel for security reasons, again?

MR. RUBIN: Right. Because we didn't have as many people on a near- continuous basis as we now have, so all the consular work was done in Cairo. With an ability to have more people there on a near-continuous basis and other aspects of our presence increasing on this because there are more people there more, this has enabled a consular official to do interviews.

QUESTION: On the same question I asked yesterday, which was: What's the difference between having somebody -- from the security point of view, having somebody there all the time or having different people staying for nearly continuous periods?

MR. RUBIN: Well, if you have a TDY-like situation where people go there, they stay for a certain period of time -- temporary duty -- that is different than reopening the permanence of the US presence, which requires an elaborate presence, especially in a part of the world where there are real security issues. And so people feel you can have small numbers of diplomats go in and come out without their families, without all the infrastructure that goes with continuous permanent stationing of people there.

QUESTION: Guards and that kind of thing?

MR. RUBIN: The whole works, right.

QUESTION: Albania's largest newspaper is reporting that Ibrahim Rugova, sometimes known as the Gandhi of the Balkans, is saying that if Kosovo is not given its independence, the Albanian Kosovars will go to war. Now, the UN resolution that put KFOR into Kosovo did not authorize partitions.

How does the United States view this development?

MR. RUBIN: Well, partition is a different question than independence.

QUESTION: Okay. I perhaps misused them but --

MR. RUBIN: All right, doesn't envisage independence. What the resolution does is say that this issue is to be determined pursuant to the same kind of process -- and I think it refers to the Rambouillet Accords -- in which the international community, the views of the people of Kosovo, will be taken into account in some diplomatic process. That's how we, the United States, see the future unfolding; that, at the appropriate time, a conference or a meeting or discussion will be held in which all the relevant views can be considered and decisions can be considered. So that is our view.

With respect to Dr. Rugova's view, it's my understanding that every Albanian politician in Kosovo is in support of independence, and their standard position would be the sooner the better. But it is not our understanding that any of the Kosovar Albanian leaders -- Dr. Rugova, Hashim Thaci, Dr. Qosja, or any of them -- have independence as an immediate objective in the coming months. But, rather, their objective is self-government and the self-government that will come with free and fair elections which are scheduled to be held in September that will come with the gradual transferring of responsibilities for civil administration from the international community to the Kosovars themselves.

So independence is an issue that's out there. It's been out there. We don't support independence, but it's not my understanding there is any new danger suddenly appearing on the horizon from an Albanian desire for independence.

QUESTION: So the United States does not support independence, but countenances independence as a possible outcome of the various --

MR. RUBIN: I wouldn't quite put it that way. We don't make it a practice of taking away people's dreams, and it is our view that we don't support independence and it is our view that the status of Kosovo can be determined only through the process I've described. But we're aware of the opinions and the views and the dreams of many of the leaders of Kosovo.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:50 P.M.)

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